Whenever I meet someone new, particularly a woman, the uncomfortable question of what I do inevitably arises. The question always makes me a little sheepish. Well, uh, hmn, I phatically offer, I don't do very much. But in case she thinks I'm independently wealthy, I quickly dissuade her of any such notions. That is, I work as little as possible.
This is true: I don't work very much. One, I don't get or, for that matter, seek many gigs. And, two, I'm fast at what I do. I've always been a sprinter. I'd bang out an entire forty page chapter of my dissertation in a day, then toss it because it sucked, and start again. The same holds true for my corporate work. When I put my head down to do it, I do it. My five hours is an office jockey's 40 hours, if not more. I don't offer this as a brag; it's just a fact. I work quickly and efficiently. (Which is why I no longer charge by the hour; man, I left a lot of money on the table over the years charging by the hour.)
This alas leads to the next question from my new interlocutor: So what do you do with the rest of your time? No matter how many times I've been asked this question, my mind still reels with the sordid reality of what I indeed do; I laugh hysterically to myself; look away; and then offer, Uh, not much. I write, I guess.
Now, because I have a big nose and glasses and a fancy PhD and talk the way I talk, she generally assumes I spend my days bent over books and screen, thinking, scribbling, the intellectual sweat pouring off of me. That is, she assumes I'm being productive. Sure, I'm not making gobs of money but, somehow, I'm more noble — an artist of a sort. I write!
Little does she know, however, that I I write just as I work: quickly. I'm not the guy who spends hours over a manuscript, agonizing over turns of phrase, furiously editing. I write for a bit here and there — with great delight, mind you — and then I stop.
In reality, I don't do very much in the course of a day. Among other things, I binge watch TV shows. Now, when many hear this, they assume I must be watching quality television when, in reality, I'm watching "Friends" — which really is egregiously horrible. But this doesn't slow me for a moment.
Am I wasting my time? What might that even mean? Why do people assume, even demand, that I be doing something productive?
This all strikes me as so much worldliness — so crass, so silly, so Puritan, so capitalist. What's wrong with just sitting on my couch watching Ross and Chandler's shenanigans? What makes that any better or worse than, say, working 60 hours a week for a branding agency or writing a novel? What are our criteria of judgement?
Me, I just want to feel good and right, to feel present, to be joyous and, if possible, happy. I can feel this, or not, doing any number of things including watching "Friends" reruns ad nauseum. And yet I still feel that tug of humiliation, that sheepishness, that self-loathing. Such is the power of discourse.
My goal these days is to produce less, not more. I don't care about my cultural currency. Or, rather, I do care but I'm beginning not to care. I'm trying not to care. Because it all seems like such nonsense. So you wrote a novel. Great. You took a company IPO. Ok. You knitted another cowl. Power to you. Me, I watched all umpteen seasons of "Friends" in one week.
What is there to produce? What currency of the culture economy do I need to exchange to maintain my good standing — to command respect, a girlfriend, a job? I tend to keep my TV watching and what have you to myself. Until now. Here I am, telling the world, probably to my detriment: I produce close to nothing of any value to anyone and I'm neither ashamed nor proud. I am as I go and I go as well as I can and as I do and that's all there is to it.
To focus on production is to miss life. Life is not what you make; it's how you go. So perhaps you're joyful working your 80 hours or writing your poems or knitting your wears. Excellent. But your joy is in the doing, not the production per se. Everything gives way. None of this crap matters. And now I have Chandler and Monica's wedding to watch, thank you very much.